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KAMAL AL MANSOUR, AUTHOR

Born in 1959 in Los Angeles, California, Kamal amir Masiah Al Mansour graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles in 1981, with a BA degree in political science, opting not to major in art as initially planned. In 1984, Al Mansour graduated from the University of California, Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco with a JD.

In 1985, Al Mansour began his corporate career with JPL (one of the NASA Centers) where he negotiated software license agreements and technology transfers between CalTech and the Dept. of Energy. He next worked for GTE Government Systems Division (where he negotiated the deal that leveraged Air Force technology into what we know today as GPS navigation systems in automobiles. The GTE position was in Massachusetts, which is where Al Mansour founded CPTime Online and AfroLink Software. “I was sitting up late one night watching PBS when I saw a segment on an interactive multimedia software program titled Culture, developed by a professor at Princeton University. It featured images, animation, and text. I was fascinated seeing the use of this technology, but more so that it was called Culture but did not feature anything about Kemet, or any Black people whatsoever.” It was that night in 1988, Al Mansour decided to create AfroLink Software.



Having already started research of anything and everything Black, in preparing for CPTime Online (a BBS), Al Mansour rationalized that CPTime would be a longer user adoption vs. software that was more commoditized. He leveraged the growing database he was building, as well as a graphics database of images he used in support of a number of desktop publishing engagements, as the content foundation for what would become AfroLink Software. “I started with creating storyboards of two titles I wanted to launch first — Africa Insight and Who We Are. Africa Insight offered three core content categories: Country Profiles, Banks/Development Orgs, and Universities/Cultural Orgs. Who We Are presented “firsts” in numerous categories such as Science/Technology, Law/Politics, General History, Arts/Entertainment, Education and Sports--formatted as interactive multiple-choice for hundreds of questions with three possible answers for each (i.e., "edutainment"). It also featured famous quotes of key global figures and other content. Al Mansour knew that these two products would be the first Afrocentric interactive multimedia software programs available and would potentially have a significant impact. Al Mansour’s objective was to provide aggregated Black information as a platform to unite Black people globally. He also introduced the first Black clip art, CPTime Clip Art which would later be offered in three volumes. Other interactive titles that he later developed included: Caribbean Insight, Afri-American Insight, iMHOTep (Black health), and Pride and Purpose (a self-esteem program for elementary school).

In 1990, Al Mansour formally introduced AfroLink Software when he sent out a press release to all Black newspapers and magazines. EMERGE magazine picked up on his story and ran a one-page feature. One day out of the blue, Dr. Molefi K. Asante (esteemed scholar of “Afrocentricity” and chair/professor at Temple University), called and after a very short greeting asked, “what’s ready?” Al Mansour replied, “Africa Insight, Who We Are and CPTime ClipArt Vol. I.” Asante asked how much and where to send a check, and told Al Mansour to keep up the good work. This was a most fitting beginning for AfroLink.

Al Mansour would later appear in EMERGE again, Black Enterprise, Seattle Times, WSJ, Windows magazine, MacWeek magazine, Macworld magazine, and many others. He would also appear on CNN (for 2:04 minutes!), Headline News, and a few local news outlets. For four years, AfroLink sold to many schools (K-12) as well as colleges and universities, and customers throughout the US, Caribbean, Canada, Europe, and West Africa. CPTime Online waned as AfroLink Software took off. You can read more about the "AfroLink" story in Black Software. The Internet and Racial Justice, From the AfroNet to Black Lives Matter, by Charlton D. McIllwain.

However, in 1995, despite a fledging and short success, rejecting numerous buyout offers, and a loyal but declining following; the World Wide Web was fast-approaching with the Netscape browser making access to information widely available. The accessibility, fluidity of data, and cost model of the web made software (i.e., CD-ROM publishing) stagnant and increasingly obsolete.

In 1998, Al Mansour returned to corporate America with the experience and skill-set to leverage the impending Y2K period. Over the next few years, Al Mansour would transition from corporate law to IT, and launch unVOZ.com in an attempt to repurpose AfroLink content (spec. Caribbean Insight, Africa Insight, and his clip art), which included creating a line of t-shirts that featured images on the front (i.e., Harriet Tubman, Marcus Garvey, Toussaint L’Overture, Patrice Lumumba, Kwame Nkrumah, Che, and others) and a famous (or not so famous) quote on the back, of the image on the front. The shirts and hoodies became an instant hit, creating an interactive experience esp. for images like Samora Machel and others that people weren’t aware of, and then inspiring dialog once reading the quotes. Like AfroLink Software and CPTime Online, the unVOZ tees and hoodies cannibalized unVOZ.com.

In 2003, Al Mansour experienced several life events that caused him to question what he should be doing with his life. In fact, while home one day his late mother called to ask him if he saw Oprah on TV. She had a former Google exec on who was pitching his book titled, What Should I Do With My Life? Al Mansour did not see the show but ordered the book. It was partly the book, but also two close relatives that passed that caused him to decide to return to his art.

Building off of the success of the unVOZ t-shirts, and leveraging the digital skills he developed running AfroLink, Al Mansour created poster art from his clip art, but he also picked up a pencil to draw, which he had not done for over 25 years. The second drawing he completed he shared with Varnette P. Honeywood (a very well-known artist who would become his mentor until her death in 2010), and while at her home one day in 2004, Dr. Samella Lewis (a master artist who earned the first Ph.D. in African-American Art History) was visiting Varnette and saw his work and suggested that Al Mansour should have a solo of his work for Black History Month in 2005. Al Mansour only had the poster art and a handful of original works. He would spend the next 6 months creating 10 more original pieces, and sold four at the opening of We Cannot Forget, his first solo exhibition.

Al Mansour would go on to exhibit over the next 15 years in solo and group exhibitions in galleries, universities, art centers, and museums. In fact, Al Mansour closed out 2019 with three significant exhibitions. Al Mansour's Patriot Act, Art. II was on exhibit in Exploring Aspects of War In and Through the Visual Arts, at Northern Illinois University Art Museum in DeKalb, IL, and then he showed in The FL3TCH3R Exhibition of Socially & Politically Engaged Art at the Reece Museum at East Tennessee State University (Johnson City, TN) where he won the Award of Merit from juror Sue Coe for Just-us in America. He then finished the year with Inventing Souls #3 in REDEMPTION  Is there a Moral Economy? at Skye Gallery in Providence, Rhode Island.

Al Mansour began the new decade with a solo, Art is the Weapon, at the Peninsula Museum of Art in Burlingame, CA from January 22nd through April, when the COVID-19 pandemic closed the exhibition. He had 11 pieces on exhibit, incl. Enter the Dragon, Patriot Act, Art. I and II, Fela, Altered State(s), American Profile #3: Prison-Industrial Complex and other work.

Al Mansour, however, did not sit still during the pandemic pause. He introduced a new series focused on Afrofuturism, entitled, AI (Gen 1), with three versions for this first generation. He plans on three generations with three new versions per generation. He has also completed his first book that he started in 2018. His newly founded artGriot Publishing has published, Divine Consciousness: From a Dystopian Diaspora to Afrofuturism, which is now available. Further, this is part one of his planned three-part Divine Series.

Al Mansour has new artwork coming out soon that includes completion of the New World Order series. Al Mansour is also considering several online exhibitions to be announced soon, and will exhibit in Storied References at the Northern Illinois University Art Museum opening January 12th, 2021.



Copyright © 2020 Kamal Al Mansour
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